TORTURE GARDEN is the second in a series of seven Amicus horror anthologies. If THE MONSTER CLUB is included as part of the series, this would make eight movies. Although, that movie is very different from the others.
I look upon the Amicus anthologies with great memories as I used to love them when I was in my teens. My feelings for them today are just as strong.
TORTURE GARDEN is a very misleading title for this movie because there is no torture and no garden.
The movie has been unfairly maligned by IMDb users. I will put up an argument in its defence.
The linking story in this movie is easily one of the best found in Amicus anthologies. It provides a long but highly interesting introduction that had me hooked from the first moment. Burgess Meredith gives a truly magnificent performance as the sinister showman, Dr. Diabolo. He persuades a group of fairground visitors that he can show them real horror. Four of the visitors have their futures predicted and this constitutes the framework for the stories.
The first story sees Michael Bryant as a somewhat opportunistic young man who allows his uncle to die just so he can get his hands on his money. The uncle has a mysterious cat that leaves coins behind every time someone is killed. Bryant ends up going on a mini killing spree to get the money. In the end, he goes crazy and is locked up. He thinks he’s free of the cat, but is he? Watch and see. This story provides a solid start to the movie. Michael Bryant gives a great performance as a greedy man who is driven to insanity.
The second story takes a very different course to the first. In this quirky tale, Beverly Adams plays an actress determined to find out why other actors manage to stay young. This story is very much maligned. I admit that one really has to suspend disbelief when viewing this story but I found it entertaining and Miss Adams looked very glamorous in her part.
The third story sees Barbara Ewing as a journalist falling in love with a pianist, played by John Standing. This strange piano with a mind of its own becomes jealous of their affair and decides to do something about it. This is easily the weakest story in the movie. It not only requires suspension of disbelief but is mostly boring to sit through. The end is unintentionally funny but not really entertaining enough to endure the rest of the story for. John Standing is very bland in his role and his performance is flat and lifeless. However, he can’t really be blamed for that given the absurd story he has to work with. Barbara Ewing fares better, giving everything she’s got, but even she can’t save this story.
The final story and easily the best puts the movie back on track. Jack Palance is a fanatic of Edgar Allan Poe’s work. He meets a fellow fanatic, played by the late great Peter Cushing. Cushing lets him into a secret – Poe has come back from the dead and is writing new stories. The finale of this story is very confusing but interesting to watch. Jack Palance does little more than stand around smoking a pipe in this and the linking story. Another IMDb user has stated on the comments page that Christopher Lee would have been a better choice for the role. I certainly agree with that analogy.
Freddie Francis directs the material he is given very well, adding a particularly unique effect at the end of each story. When the transition is made from a story back to the linking story, a pair of scissors is seen and heard cutting a ribbon. This creates the effect of snapping both the character and the audience out of what is presented as a kind of nightmare. Some excellent camera angles in the first story help to make it seem more macabre than it really is. Some intelligent editing is employed in the third story to try covering up its absurdity.
Overall, TORTURE GARDEN has its flaws but is a must-see for fans of the Amicus anthologies, fans of other Amicus movies or fans of portmanteau horror movies. If my summary provides the movie with enough appeal in your eyes, check it out. You’ll enjoy it!